Tag Archives: branding

Running a PR Department vs. Running a PR Agency

Picture courtesy of Flickr user popculturegeek

The PR skillsets and attitudes differ whether you’re leading a PR agency or you’re leading a PR department in an integrated agency

Running a PR department within a larger agency is very different from running your own PR agency. From the employees that are hired to the way PR is even talked about, the skillsets don’t necessarily translate from one to the other. Try to run your department like an agency and watch as you slowly isolate your team from the rest of the agency, leaving adversarial relationships in your wake. Run your agency like a department and get ready for lots of frustration when you’re unable to expand and scale your work. After leading a number of PR and social media teams within large organizations as well as working with a number of people who run their own agencies, I’ve realized that while both roles may have the Director title, the two roles are very different in a few fundamental ways.

  • Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Doubling the number of people on my team isn’t a success metric. Sure, I’m always looking to grow the agency’s business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the PR business should also get larger. Sometimes, growing the PR business on a particular account may not be part of the agency’s strategy. Sometimes, securing another PR-led account might mean I’m not able to dedicate the time/talent to other integrated accounts.
  • PR vs. PR. There’s no single definition for what PR should or shouldn’t entail. In many organizations, it’s everything – media relations, investor relations, events, social media, web content, etc. In others, it’s only one or more of these. In an integrated agency, you have to understand what aspect of PR you’re responsible for and what other agencies are responsible for and work with them. In many cases, I’ve found myself working right alongside another PR agency because they’re responsible for the client’s overall corporate communications whereas my team is responsible for the earned media portion of an integrated campaign.
  • PR isn’t always the answer. There’s no hammer searching for a nail here. When you’re leading your own PR agency, you’re always advocating for your agency and trying to secure additional hours/scope. In an integrated agency, you have to not only understand PR, but also paid media, SEO and SEM, Digital, Social Media, User Experience, etc. You have an entire toolbox of capabilities at your disposal and you have to understand how and when and where to leverage them all.
  • Learn to give to get. Sometimes when I’m part of these huge client meetings, I’ll say something like, “you know, I’ve got $10K in my budget that I could slide over to the Digital team if that would help get the site up and running on time.” People will still look at me like I have three heads. “You’re giving away the PR budget????” Well yeah, if there’s another strategy or tactic that will help meet our business objectives, why wouldn’t I? When you’re working in an integrated agency, you have to understand that whatever money you take is coming from someone else’s budget. Show a willingness to share budgets and resources with other departments and it’ll come back to you, often from departments with much deeper pockets.
  • Your clients are brand managers, not PR people. There are going to be times where you absolutely kill it from a PR perspective and it won’t matter one bit to the client. You might be uber-excited about that opportunity you’ve secured with that morning show, only to have your client shrug his/her shoulders and say “eh, we’ll pass.” The hits, the placements, the coverage that gets PR people all excited doesn’t always have the same effect on people who are responsible for the overall marketing campaign. To them, every dollar that gets spent on trying to earn media is a dollar that could be spent paying for guaranteed media. You have to understand and empathize with their plight and figure out ways to fit PR into that mindset rather than getting frustrated that they “don’t understand PR.”

As more and more agencies integrate paid, owned, earned, and social media in their own ways, the PR professional needs to evolve accordingly, especially those in senior level positions. It’s one thing to have a leadership role at a PR agency, but unfortunately, many of those lessons learned and best practices no longer apply to leadership roles at a PR department in an integrated agency.

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A Partial Reading List for PR Students

Students in class

Image courtesy of Flickr user vasta

College students across the country are in the midst of moving back to college for the fall semester. In between partying, traveling, club activities, sports, Greek commitments, and jobs, some will also be attending classes. Those lucky enough to be taking a PR class should be looking forward to discussions about an industry that’s being turned upside down by technology. You’ll learn from brands who have made mistakes. You’ll learn from brands who have succeeded. You’ll learn about laws governing social media. You’ll learn how to use social media for yourself. You’ll learn how social media is being integrated into areas beyond just marketing and PR. And you’ll also probably learn plenty of tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, all in the name of efficiency, scalability, or optimization.

Do me a favor this semester. If your PR professor starts sounding like a Buzzfeed article sharing all kinds of tips and tricks advocating how to get the most fans, followers, retweets, likes, or views, tell them that you want to stop taking the easy way out.

If the books and blogs you’re reading for your PR or marketing class start to sound too much like late night infomercials extolling get-rich quick schemes, here’s are some resources I’d recommend sharing with your professor and classmates this semester.

  • The Cluetrain Manifesto  – I’ve talked about this book a lot for a reason. It’s one of the first books I read when I first started in social media back in 2006. It’s as relevant now and it was then, and is a great foundation for any PR or marketing professional.
  • Humanize – Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter provide a fantastic how-to on making organizations not just seem more human, but actually function in a more human way. It tackles the hard people side of change that most organizations seem to think is taken care of with a memo or a training class.
  • Marketing in the Round – Marketing and PR are no longer the only organizational touchpoints with the public. Customer service, marketing, PR, operations, executive leadership – the public doesn’t care about your org chart. Successful marketing is integrated marketing.
  • Social Media Strategist – There’s a difference between being the millenial who is handed the keys to an organization’s social media accounts and being a business leader who uses social media to change an organization. FYI – the latter is who you want to be. Read this book and learn how to do that.
  • Spin Sucks – One of my favorite blogs for years – Gini and her team are whip-smart PR practitioners who understand there’s no technology replacement for good PR.
  • The BrandBuilder Blog – You’ll hear people whine and complain about the difficulty in measuring the ROI of social media ROI. Don’t be one of those people. Read Olivier’s blog and book.
  • Shel Holtz – I’ve been a fan for more than five years. Shel’s one of the smartest PR practitioners you’ll ever meet.
  • Shelly Kramer – I’ve just started reading Shelly’s blog over the last year or so, but I love her matter-of-fact approach to marketing and conversational tone.
  • Doug Haslam – I love Doug’s sense of humor and willingness to call BS on marketing “best practices” that have pervaded this industry.
  • Rick Rice – Rick and I share very similar views and frustrations with the PR industry – the PR practitioner as consultant and adviser, not as publicity hound.
  • Geoff Livingston – I’ve known for a long time too and have always admired his commitment to his beliefs and his broad knowledge of everything from marketing to branding to PR to social media.
  • Jeremiah Owyang – one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in this industry. His blog, presentations, and dozens of research studies have been immensely helpful to my career.

There are a lot of other great resources out there (please share them in the comments), but sadly, even more that will lead you down a path full of shortcuts and hacks.

This semester, avoid taking the easy way out and remember that establishing and maintaining relationships are supposed to be hard. As any college student will tell you, creating and maintaining any relationship isn’t easy. It’s not easy in our personal lives, and it’s certainly not easy in our professional lives. It takes time and commitment. There’s small talk, awkward silences, disagreements, reconciliations, and long conversations. This is the case whether it’s girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates, customers, reporters, or employees.

Through all the tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, remember that at the end of the day, successful PR really comes down to basic interpersonal communications. Listen more than you talk. Empathize with the other person. Add more value than you take. Say please and thank you. Be honest. Apologize when you’re wrong. Keep the basics as your foundation and you’ll do just fine this year and into the future.

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Using Social Media to Reach the Hard-Working Class

How are you engaging with the new "hard-working class?"

How are you engaging with the new “hard-working class?”

They’re not part of the 99% or the 1% or the 47%. They’re not part of the East Coast Elite or the Bible Belt or the Sun Belt or the Rust Belt. They’re nurses, office administrators, housekeepers, entrepreneurs, waitresses and stay-at-home moms. They’re told they’re part of the middle class, but they sure don’t feel like they are. They’re part of a growing class of people in this country making between $30K and $50K a year, aren’t eligible for government assistance (and wouldn’t take it even if they were), are married with kids, and are working their butts off to make things work any way they can.

According to new research released today by Cramer-Krasselt (disclaimer: I work there), more than 75% of lower-middle income moms are more likely to identify themselves as part of a new group called the “Hard-Working-Class. These are people, specifically working moms, who don’t identify with the any of existing consumer segments. They’re technically middle-class, but middle-class doesn’t reflect their reality.

“I’m technically middle class, but I don’t feel that way. If you’re middle class, you should be able to have a home, be able to save for college. I’m barely able to make ends meet. Every day is just a struggle.”

The study found that these moms are re-defining themselves into a new social class and social mindset. For marketers, these moms don’t represent just a new, sizable consumer segment, they wield a lot of influence within their families and with their friends. And while they are price sensitive, they also have many smart strategies for making ends meet.

  • They use coupons…a lot
  • They like/follow/subscribe to brands in social media…if there’s a deal involved
  • They get together with friends…to share and trade clothes, food, and coupons
  • They use coupons to save money…but also to get that feeling of “getting a deal”
  • They buy generic brands…but will spend more for “tried-and-true” brand names

Marketers have to not only better understand this new segment of consumer, they have to find out how to help them. It’s not just about getting these “masters of making it work” to buy your products, it’s about identifying ways to help them out. They’re looking for brands to do more than just offer them a deal or a coupon. They’re looking for acknowledgement, recognition, and most importantly, support.

For members of this hard-working class, they use online communities, forums, Facebook, and Pinterest to create these communities and support systems and conduct the research that allows them to make their dollar work as hard as possible for them. For brands, social media allows them to connect with these moms…if they can stop the hard sell and be helpful and supportive.

  1. Go where they are. Hard-working class moms realize they can’t do it all by themselves. That’s why they’re constantly scouring message boards, forums, and other social media for tips, tricks, and deals. Rather than creating your own branded online communities, consider first actively participating in existing unbranded communities by answering questions, solving problems, and offering discounts to those who need it. Why do you think Best Buy employees frequent online electronics forums or car brands actively participate on top auto blogs? Not to drive customers to a branded site, but to solve problems and answer questions where they already are.
  2. Instead of begging for likes, ask for feedback. Stop using social media to grovel for likes and instead use it to ask what your brand can do to help these moms. Is it making smaller, less expensive SKUs? Is it offering payment plans? These moms have been misunderstood by brands for years. Use your social media channels to ask them for their thoughts and really understand their situation. The trick then, of course, is that you have to actually do something with this feedback once you get it. 
  3. Help her use what she already has. Take a page from Patagonia, who explicitly told their customers that they didn’t have to buy a new jacket just because it was the holiday season. They realized that by helping their customers understand how to do more with what they had, they actually increased loyalty and sales.
  4. Demonstrate the versatility of your products. Campbell’s has realized these moms are always thinking of ways to stretch their budget so they are helping customers understand new ways to use their products. Their Chunky Dinner Creator allows moms to stretch that one can of soup into a whole dinner for her family. Brands should use social media to demonstrate unique uses of their products and encourage their customers to share their discoveries too.
  5. Evolve the coupon. Brands have used coupons to instill customer loyalty by offering a discount. But these women aren’t looking for handouts – they’re looking for hand-ups. They’re looking for more value, not just lower prices. What if brands flipped the coupon and instead of lowering prices, they offered more value at the same price? What if brands took all that big data everyone’s talking about to identify and reward their loyal customers with insider access, limited edition products, or sneak peeks into new plans?
  6. Show how your products work in conjunction with others. Are you a fashion brand? Use Pinterest to show these moms how your shirts, pants, or accessories can be matched up with other clothing items they may already own. A food brand? Help them craft entire meals for their family. A car brand? Instead of talking about horsepower and torque, show how your cars can fit a soccer team’s equipment in the trunk or how kids can stow their toys in the backseat.

What do you think? Has the term “middle-class” become an anachronism? Is it too broad to actually mean anything to anyone? Do you know anyone who identifies more with the hard-working class? Do you?

For more on the study, check out the articles below:
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NHL Skating on Thin Ice With Many Supporters Post Lockout

A version of this article was written in mid-January and originally appeared in the February issue of PRWeek (subscription required)

On January 6, after 113 days, 625 missed regular-season games, and countless starts and stops, the National Hockey League ended its third lockout in 19 years.

After the last lockout, the NHL launched the “My NHL” campaign which portrayed hockey as a battle and its players as warriors. They also wrote thank you notes on the ice at every arena and increased their promotional giveaways. Marketers may point to the increased attendance and TV ratings that followed as evidence of this campaign’s success, but most people seem to think that had more to do with the very clear fundamental changes in how the league operated, including a salary cap, elimination of the two-line pass, shootouts, and a draft lottery.

Now, the league has to be wondering if fans will come back as quickly, if at all. After all, fans then were almost willing to accept the lockout if it meant the league would be healthier over the long-term. This time, fans view the situation as a greedy money grab by owners unwilling to reign in their spending. Nike’s new “Hockey is Ours” commercial even celebrates this “us vs. them” mentality by highlighting a defiant attitude among players and fans.

What the NHL faces isn’t simply a PR, marketing or image problem. This is a trust problem, with fans feeling betrayed more than once in less than a decade. Earning trust back won’t happen with commercials and thank you notes. It’s going to be about what the league does not what it says. Sure, the hardcore hockey fans will probably soon forgive, but the casual fan—the fan that’s been so responsible for the success of the league over the last ten years—isn’t going to be so ready to spend money on a league that seems to have so little regard for the people keeping it in business.

Here are five ways the NHL can start the process of repairing its damaged reputation:

  1. Start communicating with fans NOW MORE. Open up communication as soon as possible. Give fans details about the new agreement, what it means to their favorite teams, and how it makes the game better. At this point, over-communicate – not with marketing messages, but with contrite honesty.
  2. Create a space for fans to vent. The NHL should create an online space for fans to vent their feelings about the lockout, ask questions (which actually get answered) and offer ideas for improving the league. While some of the discussion will be rooted in frustration, the league is potentially opening up an opportunity to learn more about its core fan base and maybe even stumble on a good idea or two. Get the fans talking and keep them engaged, even if they’re hurt.
  3. Stop insulting fans and offer them stuff they actually care about. Thirty-percent-off merchandise and free parking for five games isn’t going to cut it. Make NHL Center Ice free for everyone. Offer free parking for the rest of the year. Offer free tickets to kids under the age of 13 – this is going to be your future fan base. Lower ticket prices across the board (e.g., if you lose half the season, make tickets half price, etc.).
  4. Increase transparency. Create content that pulls the veil back on league finances and operations. Now that the lockout is over, force teams to open their books. Hire someone to translate it into non-insider language to explain how the league is more viable now, and better yet, how this will ensure that yet another lockout isn’t going to happen again in ten years. The NHL already has a blueprint for how to do this – Brendan Shanahan’s video series explaining penalties and suspensions is a fantastic example of how to make complex things consumable to the average fan.
  5. Ramp up your community relations. All teams should have their players deliver the fans their tickets like the Penguins do. Hold open tryouts where fans can come and try out for the team like the Minnesota Wild have done. Go beyond sponsoring local teams and leagues and get involved with them, like the Nashville Predators did in the video below. Do all of this and more. Much, much more.
This was the second long lockout in less than ten years. Sure, some fans will come back as soon as that first puck is dropped, but to repair relationships with the vast majority of fans, the league is going to have to go beyond apologies, press conferences and tweets and show the fans that they care. It doesn’t matter what the league says, but what they do. If the league wants fans’ dollars (and loyalty) back, they’re going to have to first win back their fans’ trust.
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